Former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu promises FM Silvan Shalem No. 2 Spot.

Netanyahu won the Likud primary leadership vote Monday, Dec. 19, by 44.5% according to partial results. He was trailed by foreign minister Silvan Shalom (33%) who conceded victory and pledged support for Netanyahu.
debkafile‘s political analysts note the irony in the concatenation of prime minister Ariel Sharon’s discharge from hospital Tuesday, Dec. 20, after a minor stroke, and the restoration to Lilkud leadership of Netanyahu, his foremost rival and predecessor as head of government and party. Moshe Faiglin came third with 12.5% followed by Avraham Katz with 8.5%.
Sharon is ordered by his doctors to stay home for a few days’ rest – home being his Jerusalem residence rather than his Sycamore Ranch, so as to be available for “ambulatory treatment” close to the hospital.
Netanyahu in contrast will be extremely busy.
The primary was held to fill the vacancy left by Sharon’s walkout. He split Likud and created Kadima to campaign for a third term in an early general election on March 28. Netanyahu’s victory, the prime minister’s sudden medical failing and the emergency of a new Labor leader, Amir Peretz, have combined to set Israel’s major political groupings on a fresh footing at the starting-line of a national election campaign.
The new Likud leader’s most obvious course would be to muster 61 Knesset members to topple the Sharon government and form a coalition to serve up to November 2006 instead of letting the early March poll stand. This would be a grave setback for Sharon and his new venture, offering Labor, Likud, Change and the ultra-religious Shas a chance to recover defecting voter-blocs which made Kadima the pollsters’ darling before Sharon’s illness. But there are few signs of enough takers to make this scheme viable by the Dec. 29 deadline.
Therefore, the next three months will see a grim, no-holds-barred struggle among three determined men. For the first time in Israel’s political history, three parties and three leaders will be vying on equal ground to head a government.

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